The death of Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji, a Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), in an encounter with the security forces in a forest in the West Bengal's Paschim Medinipur district has been billed a major success for those engaged in joint operations against the Maoists in the region. However, this could adversely affect the future of talks between the State Government and the Left wing extremists, indicate the State-appointed interlocutors assigned to take the peace process forward.

“There cannot be peace talks (with the Maoists); it is quite impossible when a security operation is on in full swing. This is not an atmosphere conducive to the peace process,” one of the main interlocutors told The Hindu .

“One cannot expect them (the Maoists) to come to the negotiating table at gun-point…At a time when we have been trying to arrive at an understanding for a cease-fire, it is as if they (the Maoists) are being told to either surrender or get killed”, he added, shortly after learning that the body of the person killed in the encounter was suspected to be that of Kishenji.

Opportunity lost

“The government has failed to seize the opportunity”, the interlocutor said.

“It is a cruel time to talk about the peace process….Mamata Banerjee is playing a dual role: she says she is ready for talks but is also conducting joint operations”, revolutionary poet and writer Varavara Rao, known to be sympathetic to the Maoist cause, said from Hyderabad.

The State interlocutors who had been appointed by the State Government on July 7 to explore the possibility of peace talks had last week, in the wake of fresh violence by Maoists in the State's Purulia district and the subsequent operation by security forces in which two ultras were killed, had expressed their desire to be relieved of their responsibilities.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, however, prevailed on the interlocutors at a meeting on November 19 to reconsider their move to pull out and continue with their attempts to take the peace process forward.

Ms. Banerjee has been maintaining that the peace process is a “continuous process”. But with the suspected killing of Kishenji in an operation by the security forces, fresh questions are being asked whether or not the interlocutors will revert to their earlier decision to discontinue their efforts.

The interlocutors have been emphasising on the need for both the State Government and the Maoists to “exercise restraint” so that a congenial atmosphere based on “mutual trust” could be created for the holding of peace talks between the two sides.

In the wake of Thursday's developments they feel, at least for now, there seems to be very little likelihood of such a possibility.